The second season of The Mandalorian provided all kinds of twists and turns and visits from old friends from the past Star wars installments. But its most recent episode – “Chapter 14: The Tragedy” – introduced the most unexpected development to date: After decades of blunt frontal assaults while shooting wildly from the hip, the stormtroopers have finally stumbled upon basic tactics.
Stormtroopers have long demonstrated a shocking lack of tactical agility for the Empire’s supposed shock troops. Even victories like this on the ice planet Hoth have come with destroyed vehicles and dead soldiers strewn across the snow. Charging forward and yelling “Blast ’em” seemed to be the limit on their ability to use fire and maneuver against their enemies. It is as if their strategic development began with the assault wave tactics of 1914 or the Soviet human waves in Stalingrad and stayed there forever. If you don’t have to worry about recruiting and retention, body count isn’t a metric that leads to organizational change.
Over the centuries, most armies have come to fundamental conclusions: it is better to attack the enemy from the side or from the flank rather than from the front; machine guns, or other weapons to suppress the enemy, are in some way essential; and a leader in the field must direct the combat actions. Massaging all available fire on the enemy and then maneuvering to find a weak spot in their defenses is pretty much the best path to success. While common to all real-world military forces, these concepts have so far eluded the corps of Imperial stormtrooper.
From actions aboard spaceships and Death Stars, to Hoth, to Endor, stormtroopers have never relied on more than numbers in combat. Mace has replaced, well, pretty much everything else, including the blaster’s basic marksmanship. The “spray and pray” technique may have confused enemies, but it did little to harm them. The Stormtroopers have also demonstrated their willingness to break up and chase whatever happens to them, with very little discipline, so it is. an army of little bears almost destroyed one of Vader’s legions on the Moon in the Forest of Endor. The minimal tactical acumen displayed by the stormtroopers last week was therefore a real shock. Perhaps freed from the shackles of the Empire – they are leftover stormtroopers after all, still in the service of former Imperial warlords – the Stormtroopers were finally able to benefit from their hard-bought lessons.
Now let’s be honest: they really need it, given their enemy. It is generally accepted that the Mandalorians are among the fiercest fighters in the Star wars universe. The protagonist of the show is no exception, with broad and deep talents. Remember, this is the guy who staged a combined assault on a Krayt dragon on Tatooine – building a scale terrain model that any Ranger School graduate would be proud of – uniting two groups of enemies against a common enemy. Not just any enemies, but the Sand People, who since their appearance in Star Wars Episode IV I had nothing But enemies. It’s the diplomatic equivalent of teaming up Iran and Saudi Arabia. Mando supports his talent for building coalitions with a great deal of personal courage and a high level of tactical skill on the battlefield. So, yes, it is a force to be reckoned with.
Until, that is, last week’s episode. (A few spoilers from now.) Right after leaving the child at the sacred Jedi site on planet Tython, a transport drops off several squads of soldiers nearby. Joined by two unlikely allies, Mando begins firing at the attacking stormtroopers, who are soon reinforced from a second transport. After sustaining casualties from their usual frontal assault, the stormtrooper’s officer – identified by an orange shoulder – does something shocking: he orders one of his detachments to “Left Flank and Up ! ” When another stormtrooper points out that it was useless to move forward in so many shots, the officer loses patience and shouts, “Flank them, idiot!” This is clearly a new concept for the stormtrooper ranks.
To aid his besieged soldiers who climb a hill, attempting to seize the heights – an act Obi Wan is said to have encouraged – the commander deploys a heavy blaster to suppress the enemy position. He then orders the mortars to open fire to immobilize the enemy – one of the very few sightings of an indirect fire weapon in the Star wars universe. This in itself is a monumental evolution in stormtrooper tactics, as indirect fire weapons have been a mainstay of combat dating back to the days of catapults and bursts of arrows. Massive artillery fire has been at the heart of fighting since World War I. Minus the occasional indirect firearms appearances of the Clones, Ewoks, and – I hate to say it – Gungans, this hasn’t really appeared in the world. Star wars the universe to the same extent that it has dominated modern battlefields.